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How hard is finding work in Zurich without speaking German?

With a strong and resilient job market, Zurich is a major destination for international workers. But how important is speaking German - and can you get by if you only speak English?

A woman drinks a cup of tea while looking at her laptop
Are you looking for work in Zurich? Here's what you need to know. Photo by Dai KE on Unsplash

Living and working in Zurich offers many draw cards from high salaries, a favourable work-life balance and international working environment.

In addition to the economic power of the city, which contributes an estimated 20 percent of the overall Swiss GDP, Zurich has additional permits available to attract foreign workers. 

‘It’s competitive’: Essential advice for how to find a job in Zurich

But how important is speaking German – or indeed any Swiss language – when working in Zurich? 

Can you get by in Zurich without speaking German? 

The greater Zurich metropolitan area includes an estimated 1.6 million people, making it one of the largest German-speaking cities in the world. 

However, with half of population of the city’s urban area foreign, Zurich has an International feel. 

Indeed, it is not unusual to be asked to order in English at bars, cafes and restaurants in central areas of the city, due to the influx of foreign workers in the hospitality industry. 

Given the prevalence of English and English-speaking workers in the city, it is certainly possible to get by if you only speak English in Zurich. 

In addition to ordering in English, officials such as police officers and administrative staff at the town hall will also speak English or at least be able to direct you to someone who does. 

The same goes for private entities such as insurance companies, as well as utility companies for gas and electricity. 

Many official communications such as those from the cantonal government are also made in English. 

Can you work in Zurich without speaking German? 

Of course, the main element here is what industry you work in. English teachers will find it easier to get by in Zurich without German than emergency room nurses. 

Nikolaus Schönecker, Senior Team Lead at Hays in Zurich specialises in filling permanent roles in the IT sector. 

“The amount of roles not requiring German or Swiss German is increasing, since many companies are realising this is the only way to challenge the shortage of experts,” he says. Nevertheless, having even rudimentary language skills can set you apart from other foreign candidates.

Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

“Show your willingness to learn German. If you aim to be able to follow business meetings in German at a B1 level and reply in English, the barriers will be lower.” 

Stephan Surber, Senior Partner at Page Executive Switzerland, advises job-hunters to connect with the local expat community as well as country-related networking organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce. 

Most of these groups including AmCham, Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish-Swiss Chamber of Commerce also publish a list of its members online, which may be a good guide to finding international firms based in Zurich. 

He also suggests jobseekers to target expert networks such as the CFA or ACCA community for financial analysts and accountants. 

EXPLAINED: Which Swiss cantons have a minimum wage?

There are many English-language job portals on hand such as jobsinzurich.com, LinkedIn and The Local’s own search engine. But experts we spoke to said that recruitment agencies or headhunters could prove useful in finding hidden opportunities that are not yet on the market.

They can also provide feedback on interviews and ask their clients questions that a direct candidate would not usually get to ask. 

And if you eventually find yourself across an interviewer, aim to be modest and genuine. “Although self-confidence can surely help in most jobs, most Swiss people dislike bragging and overstating,” reminds Schönecker. “So try to show your best side in a realistic way.” 

What do the Local’s readers say? 

In January, 2022, The Local asked its readers about finding work in Zurich – with the importance of English a major factor. 

Generally speaking, the reader responses reflect those of the experts – that speaking German can be crucial at times, but is not necessary. 

Two thirds (66.67%) of the 30 respondents told us it was “very important” to speak German/Swiss German to find a job in Zurich. 

Just under a third said it was “beneficial but not necessary” while one respondent said it was “unimportant”. 

Have you found work in Zurich without speaking German? Or have you not? Get in touch with us at [email protected]. 

How do I find an English-speaking job in Switzerland? 

Other than contacting companies and organisations directly, you can go through a recruitment agencies such as Adecco or Manpower. If they find you a job you will not have to pay anything; the employer will be charged for their services.

There are other resources as well where you can do your own search.

First and foremost is The Local’s own search engine where industries are listed by categories.

Other resources include Jobs.ch and Glassdoor.

A more in-depth summary of how to find English-speaking work in Switzerland is available here. 

READ MORE: How to find English language jobs in Switzerland

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ZURICH

REVEALED: What are Zurich’s most popular baby names?

Zurich’s most popular baby names from 2021 have been revealed. A strong trend towards short names has emerged - and there’s barely an Urs or Ursula in sight.

REVEALED: What are Zurich’s most popular baby names?

On Thursday, Zurich council published its list of most popular baby names in 2021. 

During 2021, 5,251 babies were born across the canton, which is Switzerland’s most populous. 

On top of the list for boys was Noah, with 27 of the boys born last year receiving the biblical name. 

The leader for the girls was a little more controversial, with two different names laying claim to the crown. 

While 28 of the girls born in Zurich last year were called Olivia, there were 44 girls born in total with a variation of Sophia/Sofia. 

REVEALED: The most popular baby name in each Swiss canton

Short names dominated both lists, with Emma, Anna, Ella and Mia ranking high for girls, alongside Leo, Louis and Theo for boys. 

Another trend is that diversity is on the slide in Zurich, with fewer names given than in previous years. 

Swiss tabloid Blick reports that while 15 years ago there were 62 different names for every 100 people, there were less than 50 (48 for girls and 47 for boys) in 2021. 

Middle names are also on the rise in Switzerland, with 57 percent having one in 2021 compared to 48 percent in the 1990s. 

How does this compare to Switzerland? 

Although the 2021 figures haven’t been released for Switzerland, those from 2020 showed Noah was popular across the country as the favourite boys name. 

Olivia however was not even in the top five for girls names in Switzerland, where Mia, Emma and Mila were the most popular. 

Much like pretty much everything in Switzerland, there are significant differences between linguistic regions. 

In total, there were 461 Mias born in Switzerland last year, followed by 407 Emmas and 350 Milas.

Switzerland saw 507 Noahs born last year, followed by 372 Liams and 359 Matteos.

Mia and Noah are the most popular names in German-speaking Switzerland as well as in the country as a whole, which is of course helped by the fact that around 60 percent of Switzerland speaks German.

French-speaking Switzerland, also known as Romandie, saw Gabriel and Emma top the charts in 2020.

Sofia claimed top prize in the Italian-speaking part of the country, while Leonardo was far and away the biggest winner among the boys.

The situation is slightly different among Switzerland’s foreigners, with many opting to stick with names popular in their home countries, rather than those in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: What are the most popular baby names among foreigners in Switzerland?

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